Where have the Bettie Pages gone?

Last Updated: May 8, 2019By Tags: ,

What is it about those fabulous mid-fifties icons? The three whose names instantly come to mind—James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and the young Elvis—are as idiosyncratic as can be, unique, sans pareil, but remain evanescent. Stars from the previous decade were glamorous, talented, and they had heft. We love Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Bette Davis or Katherine Hepburn but we don’t feel sorry for them.


Gretchen Mol as Bettie Page

But the three named above carry with them a fragility, a loneliness, an otherworldly lack of fulfillment that keeps them in our hearts and minds half a century later. Of course, around the bright lights of the three-star pantheon of the mid-fifties shone lesser individuals who, in their heyday, were as famous and as beloved, though relegated to obscurity by our short memories.

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One such is Bettie Page, subject of the delightful eponymous film—with the qualifier “notorious” appropriately added—by Mary Harron (2005), “The notorious Bettie page.” Pinup to top all pinups, she was indeed notorious, and naughty, but, as the film shows well, she has exactly the same elusive qualities as MM, James the Dream and young Elvis. She never quite fits in though she’d love to and despite a luscious, curvaceous body that graced skin mags and totally forgettable skin flicks before peaking with a Playboy center spread in 1955, she’s not sexy, just sweet—a disposable doll. See the film if you haven’t. Gretchen Moll gives a tremendous, uninhibited, joyful performance, décor and candy-colored cars are perfect, the nostalgia trip is subdued, the innocence of the times stunning.

Once again, looking at our present-day fragmented wasteland, we can only shake our heads and say, what happened and where have the Bettie Pages gone?